My favorite restaurant in my hometown? Hmm, my hometown. That’s tricky. I was born in Utrecht, the Netherlands, lived in Amsterdam, them Australia for five years, then several towns in the Netherlands again before emigrating to America. So let me take as my hometown Amersfoort, the last town I lived in the Netherlands, and the town where I lived the longest. As an immigrant, the first place there that comes to mind is the pancake house. Every decent-sized town in the Netherlands has one. In Amersfoort my favorite was Pannenkoekenhuys Den Potsenmaeker.
Den Potsenmaeker in Amersfoort has a wooden floor with sand sprinkled around. This is an old custom that only a few bars and restaurants still have. It used to be done because it makes the floor easier to clean after spills and it also prevents fires from cigarette butts. Now it just adds to the old-fashioned atmosphere.
Although this is not the case in all pancake houses, Den Potsenmaeker is set up with an open kitchen, so you can see the pancakes being made, and this always involves flames flying several feet up at some point. Kids love it, and the fire adds to the warmth and gezelligheid of the place. (I will explain gezelligheid elsewhere.)
Now, when I talk about pancakes, I don’t mean those fat, fluffy little things that are called pancakes in America. Dutch pancakes are about 12” in diameter, and much thinner, though not quite as thin as a French crêpes. We don’t have pancakes for breakfast either. That’s just silly. We have them for dinner—much more sensible. And no butter!
The standard pancake is plain, with syrup or powder sugar, but the possibilities are endless, and a good pancake house has an extensive menu. You can have savory toppings like you would have in a crêpe in America, such as a mushroom ragoût or just plain cheese. You can have sweet toppings like fruit or Nutella with banana or endless others. My favorites always combine sweet and savory, such as apple and cheese, apple and bacon and cheese, or pineapple and cheese. And of course we’re talking good Dutch cheese, not the stuff that… but I digress.
When you get your pancake, you can eat it the traditional way if your toppings allow. You pour on syrup or sprinkle on powder sugar and roll it up. Then you cut about a half-inch slice off your roll at a time and enjoy. When I used to order apple and cheese as my toppings, the apple slices would make rolling impossible, but I did add syrup, and then just cut it.
Gosh, writing about it makes me want a Dutch pancake, but I never could do a good flip, and since we’re talking about a thin, 12” pancake, it turns into one terribly grumpifying mess if you don’t flip it right. The trick is to flip it really high, and I either don’t flip high enough, in which case it only half flips, or I do flip it high enough, but it doesn’t land back in the skillet. Either way I end up with a disaster. However, now I can’t get it out of my mind. I might just start small. There’s no rule saying they have to be huge, after all. And I have a dog now, so at least pancakes that land on the floor will be cleaned up with no effort on my part…